Friday, May 17, 2019

Bhutan’s Killer Highways

In 2011, somewhere below Nobding in Wangdue, I don’t want to remember, my car was hit by falling boulders but I survived to tell the story because a chunk of rock that sliced though my windshield landed near my right foot without hitting any part of my body. I still wonder how that was possible. I still feel grateful. ( I could never sue anyone for it)
Haunting Memories from 2011
Since that fateful night, I have become a little paranoid about travelling alone, travelling in the rain, travelling across deadly slopes and the charm of travelling is replaced by by fear of being crushed by huge boulders and buried under mudslide.

Famous- Reautala on the way to Zhemgang from Trongsa
Over the years, roads became wider but safety didn’t chance much. In fact with bigger roads bigger damages were inflicted on the slopes and we are seeing deadlier landslides. Every highway has a leading landslide spot and a few supporting ones that are crippling the traffic every monsoon and claiming precious lives.

We have seen several deadly accidents with multiple casualties, the recent bus accident at Basochu being one of the worsts, which should have served as harsh wakeup call for us to relook at the way we build roads. But looking at the way Damchu-Chhukha bypass was built we seemed to have learnt nothing substantial. This road though done so recently using all the modern machineries and high-tech equipments doesn’t look any different from the ones our grandparents built using crowbar. The short span has at least four death traps that will gradually become slaughter houses.

One of the four deadly stretches on Damchu-Chhukha bypass
With all the impending landslide, no accidents shall be unexpected. It’s simple physics to understand that the rocks that are held loosely on the slope will come rumbling down due to gravity. And that road being the busiest, we are only to count the number of dead bodies over the year. I can already see prayer flags being offered at two spots on that stretch where the accidents have occurred, and lives lost. If nothing is done, we shall run out of space to offer prayer flags.

Strangely, in the so many deaths due to road accidents I have seen drivers being blamed and charged, but never have I heard of a case where road contractor or official being taken to court for murder. Yes, it should amount to murder. When talking about road safety we always point at speed limit, drunk driving, etc. but never about the condition of the road. Drivers are fined for violating road safety rules and endangering their own lives and lives of other, but did road safety officials ever charge road contractors for endangering public safety due to their negligence and their incompetence?

Building road along the mountain must be a big feat but it comes with a huge price tag, and when one is paid the price for a job it’s their responsibility to ensure the road is built and that all related damages are rectified and that there won’t be landslide from above or below the road. Sadly, we can see how this is grossly neglected, perhaps it’s not even in the mandate. I don’t like to believe this, but I heard that some loose ends are intentionally left to ensure that there are repeated slides and road blocks so that the contractor or organisation can have excuses to have more works. Such a bad logic.

Whereas, at Chhuzomsa in Wangdue, a Japanese company has done a marvellous bridge and on the two ends of the bridge they have solidified the entire hill using pressurised concrete, so that there will never be any sort of landslide or shooting boulders. That’s the level of professionalism in the way Japanese work; they leave no loose ends, the only thing they leave behind is legacy of outstanding quality. Unfortunately, they are not building our roads.

Japanese Legacy at Chhuzomsa in Wangdue. Look at those hills!
The method Japanese used to seal the loose rocks into solid concrete to prevent landslide is called shotcrete. This method, which is extensively used in hydropower projects, can help make lot of our landslide prone areas safe. I have seen it used in Tala Project and now in Punatshangchu projects, but I haven’t seen it used outside the hydropower box. Except by Japanese. Why is it not used in making our roads safe?
Shotcrete
Another method I have seen being using in hydropower projects is rock-bolt, where a long anchor is used to bolt the loose exterior rock onto the solid interior rock mass. This will ensure that all those creepily hanging rock you see on our highway will not come down on us. But that’s only if we are willing to invest in safety.

Rock Bolt
During many of my meditative driving modes, when my wife’s lost in her own thoughts and when I am driving across scary slopes I thought of many way to prevent landslides and shooting boulders. In fact, in my head, I use shotcrete, rock bolts and even build RCC walks and then contemplate massive landslides. But even in my imaginative simulations walls don’t stand a chance against the force of nature. There is no way humans and our technology can stop the forces of nature when it’s on the move, but that doesn’t mean we can't divert it. Any powerful force can far easily be diverted than stopped.

Tunnel roads
That’s exactly what’s going wrong with the way we are managing our landslide prone roads; we try to stop slides by building walls and therefore the massive force of the slide then takes along the entire road itself. The best solution to that is hiding the road from the path of the slide using tunnel or half-tunnel technology

Half-tunnel, about which I read many years ago, could be our best chance at making our deadly roads safe for driving across in any season. Half tunnel will hide the road and all properties, including us in the artificial cave and whatever falls from above, no matter how powerful, will just fly over our head. This is what I mean by diverting the force of nature and not trying to stop it. It could be expensive to built but when it’s done the amount of recurring cost, lives and property it will save on top of preserving the condition of the road for sustained period of time will make the huge investment all the worth. 

Half-Tunnel


Otherwise, how can we stop a force like this: On Trongsa-Zhemgang highway
Talking about the huge cost of adopting the solutions I mentioned, I am reminded of an analogy someone shared with me (there must be a name for it as well); A poor man goes to a shop and buys a pair of Nu.400 shoes, while a rich man buys a pair of Nu.3000 shoes. The poor man’s shoe wears out in four months and he buys another pair. Every four months he has to buy a new pair. The rich man’s pair of shoes last for good five years, while within that period of time the poor man has to buy 15 pairs of the cheap brand, costing him Nu.6,000. Poor man who was trying to save money lands up paying double the price at the end.

Same happens with us as a so-called-poor country. We think we are poor country and go for the cheapest way out, but at the end the recurring maintenance cost will be far greater than if had invested in the best. We may be a poor country but we have carry a rich country mentality. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Memories of Playing Degor

The first game I was introduced to as a child growing in dusty playground of Yangthang was degor. The game needed just a pair of disc-shaped stones and a bunch of friends. In 90s it was a luxury to play any other game that required any equipment. It took a strong string to make a working bow and a sharp metal to make a arrowhead, both of which were hard in find in the village those days. Therefore, degor remain the most popular pastime.
Now when go home I don’t see anyone playing degor. In fact the huge craters we created on either end of the degor range over many years have disappeared, without leaving any trace of so much memories. Now the elders have shifted to fancy modern archery and young ones are on mobile phone games. Degor has become a game from stone age for them.













However, this seemingly outdated team game actually may be the ancestor of all the other indigenous games that emerged over the years, be it khuru or archery. With the history of centuries of monastic influence and dominance, the game that monks predominantly played could be traced back as the first of its kind, if proper research could be carried out.
Degor was the only form of entertainment that wasn’t forbidden in the monastic institution in the past. Monks could be seen playing it outside their Dzong or dratshangs. We have heard of incidences of monks getting punished or even expelled for engaging in game of archery, which is forbidden for monks. This prohibition, though not vividly written anywhere could be because of the contradiction between the nature of the game and the basic Buddhist conducts. Archery, unlike degor, is a lavish game that involves possession of bow and arrows, colorful flags and women dancers. Degor on the other hand is just a pair of rocks, which is why monks were confined to playing just degor.
The pair of rocks is but not as ordinary as one would assume, I remember scouting by the riverside for hours looking for the best pair of degors, while we could see the elders crafting out their pair from a large chunk of rock and carefully chipping it over hours at end. Each piece was so unique that we could identify the owner.

After the game, everyone left their degors in the playground, while some would find a safer place to hide theirs. No one would touch someone else’s degor, though some close friends would switch at times.

The most exciting part in the game of degor is the drama and suspense of scoring. The degor that has land on the target can be knocked off any moment by an opponent or at times accidentally by a team mate. Therefore, we would keep those sharpshooters with bigger degor toward the end to do that job. Similarly, a degor that’s nowhere close to the target can be pushed in onto the target, often accidentally. So the drama is intense until the last of degor has landed. 

Then the suspense of scoring begins. Because the target that’s a wooden peg nailed into the ground and is not visible, we can’t say whose has scored when there are more than one degor around the target. We have to hold on to our celebration until each degor is scrutinized by the two team leaders. We use indigenous measurement system of tho (Stretch between the tip of thumb to the tip of middle finger) and sow (breadth of a finger) to negotiate scores. Any degor within a tho range will score a point unless countered by an opponent’s degor that’s closer. There would be another round for drama while negotiating point, especially if we have someone who could cheat smartly by kicking away opponents’ degor or kicking in a teammates’ degor in a blink of an eye.

The excitement, drama, and all the noises have faded away with time, the playground looks desolate with haunting silence. We don’t even see monks playing degor anymore. The glamour of modern games have outshined the simple game of two stones.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Bjob Ganchu- A Badass Bhutanese Entrepreneur

Thimphu is the showroom of Bhutanese prosperity, influence and glamour as much as it’s the slum of destitution, struggle and misery. The coexistence of the two worlds is made unbearably painful when the prosperous neighbors don’t waver from casting their dark shadow over the shattered dreams on the other side. 

Having become a part of this community and witnessing the urban drama of haves and have-nots, I can see one unmindfully flaunting and other ignorantly desiring, and thus keeping the vicious circle of misery rolling. We can break free from this self-imposed tragedy by simply changing the kind of people we choose to admire and follow. 

I am least impressed by the generous display of possessions or influence. In the whole glittering exhibition of Thimphu, the only person I envy is Bjob Ganchu. To me, he is one person who is living a real dream. His days are spent in his own radio station playing music and doing amazing shows of his own creativity, and by the night he is at his own live music bar listening to bands of his choice and discussing bold new ideas with the best of people in the town. Now who else gets to do this for living! 

Gangchu- The Man! PC: His Facebook Profile
Back in the days, when I was still a teacher in Bajothang and when Thimphu was an occasional getaway for my family, I would switch to Radio Valley 99.9 FM as soon as Simtokha Dzong came in the view. In the evening, I would timidly stroll by to get a glimpse of urban night life at Mojo Park. My idea of Thimphu was whole in these two. Much later I found out that the both were created by one lanky music lover called Ganchu.

Ganchu set out to become an engineer and he became one. He secured his choice of placement at the then Thimphu City Cooperation. However, he soon realized that he was never designed for 9-5. He left his juicy position in civil service to meet his destiny half way across. It was a daring move for a village boy from Gaselo who had the burden of supporting his aging parents.

If I had known him back in 2007 I would have found him so stupid, trying to set up a radio station against so many obvious odds. Radio was a dying thing already, even the well-established BBS Radio was facing the inevitable fate with the coming of television. But who would have thought that the man was on the mission not only to revive radio but also to make it into a thriving trend? In fact, until Radio Valley came by, radio was a rural thing, it was his radio station that made listening to radio an exciting urban trend. He gave national radio a run for their money.

I am sure he isn’t making a lot of money from radio, but he is undoubtedly having so much fun playing music, directing shows of his own choice and helping people promote their businesses through his radio ads. In the age of TV and social media, he is the guy who still managed to influence businesses to invest in radio ads, and delivered results.

In 2011, he ventured into another field of business, live music bar, that was already flooding the dingy corners of Thimphu and drawing criticism. But not surprisingly, after what he did with radio, his music bar was not another drayang in the town. His was Mojo Park, a class apart, where he managed to sanctify the stage and made it into a platform where professional singers and bands aspire to perform. Down on the floor he has created a haven for decent music loving crowd. Mojo Park became an elegant place where stars performed and fans applauded, and it has also become a launch pad for many new singing talents. On top of that, despite being one crowed place, It’s the safest night place to hang out in Thimphu with no case of violence whatsoever. Touchwood. 


 


Ganchu is a unique specimen of entrepreneur in Thimphu because he neither falls in the category of young businessmen with inheritance, nor of those young entrepreneurs who are groomed and blessed by various government schemes. He emerged on his own from in-between the two and became a success story worth telling to the younger generation.

What set him apart from the rest was his guts to dream big, his sincerity to back it up with good research and then execute it like a pro. You will not hear him complain, you will only hear him talk endlessly about brave new ideas. Of course, you would hear a lot of people do that but Ganchu would have already tried and tested his ideas the next time you meet him. He does not wait for government to support or any miracle to happen. 


Gangchu- Doing what he loves- PC: His Facebook
I have known him to be a perfectionist when it comes to branding, which he is so good at. This brand master would rather have a crappy business with a good branding than otherwise. He personally worked on branding all of his businesses and even helped a lot of his friends get branding right.

His other businesses are Karma Kora T-Shirts, which has already become a collectable item and much sort after souvenir from Bhutan. I remember him travelling all the way to Bangkok to learn the art of screen-printing before he ventured into it. His branding agency, Valley Studio is thriving and raising the bar for the emerging advertising industry. 



Not everything went so smoothly for him, some of the shops he has to close down were Jarim Sarim, online photo printing service, Asha Passa, the first online business platform in Bhutan that was ahead of its time but would come back as mobile app soon, and My Flick, a movie rental store. He is smart enough to let go when things aren’t working but he won’t just let it be without giving it a shot. He has that stubborn attitude to implement his idea no matter what. 


And now he is venturing into travel business and mind you he must have something completely different to offer to this conventional business, I already saw him host the Bucketlist family. He is constantly brewing new ideas, once he asked me if I, as fellow bjob, would be interested in starting a Yak Riding business in Haa. Another time, he asked me if I would join him to create a forest of cherry trees in his or my village. He would often remind me of that prayer flagpole hiring idea I wrote some years ago. Danger of saying yes to Ganchu is that you have to do it right away.

I have seen recent entrepreneurs being awarded prizes, invited as guest speakers in schools and at various events to share their stories but in most of their stories I find on common theme; their struggle, their grievances, their hope of better future if things go well. I feel they need Ganchu to speak at such events, to talk about how to make things work, how to invest smartly, how to brand their business, how to succeed, how to let go when things don’t work and move on with the next, how to stop complaining… he will speak so bluntly that young people who are destined for entrepreneurship will find their direction and those who are not will face the truth and change their direction. They need to hear success story from this badass entrepreneur. He is a mentor you must seek because he, in his own words, “has not talent, his only talent is to see talent in people”.


Gangchu and His Wife. PC: His Facebook Profile 
Sorry, Bjob Ganchu doesn’t have a private home, he doesn’t drive a big car, he is mostly seen in his old clothes and keep his hair long, because he thinks hair is like antenna … not a conventional success story you seek but that’s what I recommend you to seek for a fulfilling and purposeful stay in Thimphu.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Battles People Fought in Animating Pemi Tshewang Tashi

Still from the movie: Pemi Tshewang Tashi approaching Trongsa
When Tharchen told me that he was going to make an animation movie I didn’t know how to respond. It sounded exciting but very impractical. All he had was a bunch of high school graduates, whom he was mandated to train and give employment. It was a suicidal mission. But who was I to tell him, especially so when he was so determined to the extent that he was talking as if he saw the end.

Tharchen, The Dream Maker
Deep down, I knew he would come to his senses and give up on the idea of building a sand castle in the cold Himalayan air. He was just done building a company, iBEST Institute, that was doing so well, and by all means he deserved to enjoy his success for good few years before he took a shot in the dark, that could topple his company. Just some years ago, which he seemed to have forgotten, he went to start a dairy farm in Dagana, which should have taught him some good lessons.

Despite my subtle disapproval he went on. Art classes for 25 young trainees began in earnest. Some months later, Tharchen was beaming with pride when he invited me to an exhibition of artworks done by his trainees. I was least impressed. I saw no possibility that those hand could be used for producing artworks good enough for an animation movie. But you should have seen the look on the face of the man, he was so sure and ever more convinced.


His business partner, Sonam Rinchen who should be worried and cautioning him about taking such uncalculated risk was rather the cheerleader of this idea. Oh, perhaps this explains how they found each other in the first place.

The furthest I could see them go with the project was producing a namesake animation movie that’s barely watchable and everyone saying, “It’s ok for a made-in-Bhutan animation, after all we don’t have the skills and technology, blah blah…” I remember telling Tharchen that at this age and time, when world is so connected in real time, we cannot just complacently use brand Bhutan as a sad excuse for producing a pathetic result. We must rather understand that the Bhutanese audience has seen the best of animations from across the world and it won’t be easy to impress them anymore.

The training was still going on in one room and in another room, I was seated with the script writer, translator, and other consultants to review the script. I could not believe it was really happening. The story was not only decided but even the script was drafted. It was based on the ballad of Pemi Tshewang Tashi. I was still wondering if Tharchen was serious about his trainees doing it. But he surprised me further by unfolding his project timeline where the date of launch of the movie was set. 


On the floor above where we were, iBEST Studios, where the movie will be made, was being set up at the cost of at least two million Ngultrums. On my way out of the review room, I peeked into the training room and pitifully prayed for the trainees, who have no idea what they had signed up for.

After a year since it began, the training ended and certificates were awarded. With any other training course, that would have been the end. The trainees would proudly leave with the certificate, regardless of what they had learnt. But this, like I said, was an interesting case, where a real project was awaiting them already. It was a test both for the iBEST Institute and the trainees.

While the long preproduction was taking its painful course the newly certified animators tried their hands on several small projects. I didn’t know how long they took or how painful it had been but they were able to produce about a dozen tiny pieces of animations. However, they were nowhere close to what it would take to make an animation movie. Tharchen could still make a U-turn at this point. He didn’t. Sonam Rinchen continued to stand behind him.

The next time we met, Tharchen presented the storyboard. By then he had diligently gone sniffing after everyone in Thimphu who carried the slightest scent of animation-related skill on them and finally it had dawned on him that all he had with him on this mission was his pack of 25 underdogs. There was hardly anyone out there who was ready to commit to such a huge project and the discipline it would require.

At least he managed to pull in portion of commitment from some people who are critical for the project. His used his mastery over the human resource management to delegate responsibilities and streamline the process and let the ball rolling. Six months into the project, seven people backed off. On the home front his marriage was failing. He was the last person to realize that all was not well behind his back. It snapped when he had the least energy to deal with it. It was becoming increasingly painful for me to visit him because each time there was a lot that had happened, much of that being unpleasant. But to his credit, his focus on the project was completely undistracted. He would show me fragments of impressive works and make me watch over and over.


Marching Back to Wangdue Dzong
By the time the project was due to end, I visited him to share his joy but it turned out to be the worst time for celebration. They had put together everything and saw that it was nothing like they had envisioned. It was indeed a sorry excuse of an animation movies that he didn’t even care to show me. For the first time in all times, I saw the man beaten. He declared that it was not happening. He spent so many sleepless nights for a dream, which just crumbled on his feet. It was one damn expensive blunder and unceremonious end to his ambitious project.

I learnt later that he gave a heartbroken farewell-like speech, shutdown his computer and went home to sleep. He surely needed a good rest but not with such burden on his mind.

The orphaned team realized what hit them. They went to wake their leader and promised him that they would complete what they had set out to do. He shut them out hopelessly and went on with his self-imposed isolation.

And perhaps that was exactly what he needed, because it was during this quiet moments with himself, he later shared, that he could assess the whole scheme of things. It was then he realized that it was not just his project and his dream that crumbled; it was his responsibility to his business partner and his team of young people who marched after him with the hope beyond this one project. The whole future ahead of them. It was their dreams too, and he was the captain of the sunken ship.

It was in these moments that he had the shrewdness to look back objectively on those few fragments of animation that were promisingly smooth. Then the whole arena of possibility became apparent to him. He went back to office the next day and began rebuilding the whole structure of hopes and dreams.

He took the direct responsibility of the all three departments that were there, which worked independently but must be in sync with each other. He removed any cloudy layer in-between him and his three teams. They agreed to work till dinner time with dinner provided in the canteen next to their office. The team unity grew gradually and began to feel like one strong beam of energy concentrated on the new-found purpose. The office literally became their home. They were motivated to stay little longer each night and soon they brought their sleeping bags and blankets to office. There found more purpose in staying after the dinner to work few more hours than going home to waste their time on TV. In the morning hours, I have seen them sleeping like logs on and under their office tables or running around with their toothbrushes looking for water.


When office became home.
Tharchen himself hadn’t seen his bed at home for months at end. In fact, he must be the only one among the team who slept with his shoes on, I saw it myself. Sleeping in the office was not the important part, it was the long waking hours that they made best use of which made all the difference.

I thought they were picking up from where they had left and trying to complete the project on the deadline but it turned out that they were starting all over again, and this time it was all so different. I knew it was at a new level when they released the first song from the movie. Before I could truly comprehend the extent at which they have grown in last few months, they released the second song. They were on fire.

I didn’t visit them much during this period because I didn’t want them to waste any minute of their time but I did pay them visits every time Tharchen summoned. He was specific about when I should come or whom should I come with, it’s often my daughter who accompanied me because he wanted our diverse views on parts of their work. During these occasional visits, I have seen some kind of a renaissance at iBEST Studios, strong energy overflowing at every desk, no one looked sleep-deprived or exhausted. They were seeking more dopamine from their work.

On one casual visit, my family got the opportunity to watch the voice artists recording for the characters. Over 50 voice artists are chosen from Bhutanese radio and film industry for 40 different types of voices they needed. I wondered why they needed people from movies when it’s not even about acting on camera but Tharchen told me that he wanted the best. Interestingly, my daughter was asked to try out recording for Lhaden Zam, Pemi Tshewang Tashi’s daughter because the voice they recorded earlier sounded little matured for the little girl character. My girl pulled off quite well and thus became part of the project.

Ninzi at iBEST Studios recording for Lhaden Zam
When the trailer came out I couldn’t believe that the team who started their training from basic art classes had come so magnificently far. In the words of His Majesty the King, “It’s not about if you can or cannot do, it’s about if you will or will not do.” They have done it. 

Now that the movie is in the cinema, it’s out there for everyone to see how much our youths can do, which takes more than just some training opportunity but a tharchenian push. It’s an animation that’s so far, the best ever produced in our country, perhaps the longest and comparable to its cousins across the world. They went for nothing less than excellence.



Warriors at iBEST Studios!
Over Nu. 15 million was invested in this project, which was enough to produce at least five regular movies and Tharchen knows that he will never recover this amount at the Bhutanese box office. He admits that half the investment went in the mistakes they made, the expensive mistakes that eventually pushed them to the level they never thought they could possibly attain. He believes that the best returns from the investment was the empowerment of his youthful team that has now become an asset to our country and to themselves. It’s so intangible, he told me, but that’s what gives him peaceful sleep.


Sunday, May 20, 2018

Bedside Toilet- Dignity and Desperation

Bedside Toilet Borrowing program was created at Bhutan Toilet Org in 2017, almost accidentally. We had four units of portable potty, which were bought to be used as guest toilets during Highland Festival in Laya, but after realising that the potties wouldn’t be suitable for huge public events we kept them in the office corner for quite sometime.


One day, I got a call from Aue Kuenga Tenzin Supe asking me if I could help his dying friend deal with his toilet trouble. His friend was fighting lung cancer and didn’t have the strength to cover the distance between his bed and the toilet. That’s when we discovered where our potty could be used. We sent him a set immediately. His friend called to thank me after receiving the toilet, and I could hear him gasping for air as he struggled between his words. He told me how the toilet next to his bed had solved his nightmare. We felt so sorry to hear about his death after some months but we took solace in the fact that we were able to comfort him in his last days.

From then on we began promoting the potty as “Bedside Toilet” for people who are bedridden due to sickness, disability and old age. We let people borrow the toilets for free, only to be returned when the patient recovers or,god-forbid, dies. On January 30 2017, we put it up on our Facebook Page and by mid day the remaining three sets were taken. We continued receiving calls in the following days, which opened out eyes to one of the gravest problems that is hidden in the corners of many homes.

We learned the desperation of the family members who had to deal with bedridden people at home, some for as long as ten years. They shared how dealing with toilet troubles causes all the awkwardness and resentment over a period of time, especially when daughter is the caregiver of a father, a son for mother. Besides the health hazards due to poor hygiene the most painful part is losing dignity and self respect as one become incapable of managing their own toilet routine, and people around show signs of disgust at you.

Our initiative was to empower them to manage their own toilet by taking toilet right next to their bed, so that even in the worst case at least it can be handled with little assistance from the caregiver. The toilet set has its own flush system and an airtight waste tank that can serve for a week without having to empty. It’s completely odourless one it’s flushed and the valve is closed.
Training Jojo Dorji how to use it

With assistance from some well-wishers, ShaMa Foundation, Pema Seldon and Dasho Sangay R Dorji, we brought five more units in the following months, but like the first batch they were taken almost immediately. We then started compiling list of requests we received. The numbers were overwhelming and we were helpless. So we submitted project proposals to few organisations, who unfortunately rejected it.
The Five Units supported by ShaMa Foundation Pema Seldon and Dasho Sangay R
Just when we thought we reached a dead end, we received a surprise gift of 10 units of bedside toilets from none other than His Majesty the King. I still wonder how His Majesty sensed our desperation though we haven’t indicated it anywhere. The royal support doubled our program capability overnight and we gladly called everyone on our list. Lives of ten families were bettered thus.

But the list only grew. We have 20 units in circulation that has served over 25 families already. And with growing awareness on the service, we are getting calls each day. Our waiting-list has over 30 people in age range of 23 to 103, and some families are checking in every day to ask if the new batch has come.

I have personally requested three businesses to import bedside toilets from Bangkok and make it available in their shops. I gave them the address in Bangkok. Because their are families who can afford and they want to buy, but it’s not available in Bhutan yet. This too is yet to happen.

With our project proposal reject we began writing to cooperate offices and individuals in Thimphu to sponsor but so far only few offices agreed to help. It’s sad that we receive request calls from very offices that have rejected our request to help. It’s a paradox. With growing numbers of calls from children of aged parents I can see that we are all going to need Bedside Toilet someday. It’s time we invest in it now, so that it’s there when we need it ourselves.

We owe it to OGZ for helping us in transporting the toilets from Bangkok from the beginning of the program and Mr. Kinley in Bhutan Embassy in Bangkok for helping us from there.

Now, we charge Nu.300 per month to ensure swift return of the toilets when they are not used anymore. Of course, we don’t charge that fee if the family can’t afford. 



Please call 3012 to donate to this cause, to inquire about this service or the product.  If you want to buy yourself from Bangkok, here is the link and number of Handy Toilet 0990593956

In partnership with ShaMa Foundation we are fundraising on GoFundMe. You can be a part of this by donating at least $5. 

Friday, May 11, 2018

PaSsu Diary- Publishing Blog into Book

How unfair is it on my part, not to discuss a word about my own book PaSsu Diary on this very blog where it was born and bred? It’s been three months today since the launch and I am surprised that I have waited so much. In the past ten years I have never let go of any such event without recording them, but it all stopped since the day I decided to publish the blog into a book. The idea took all my attention and I was gradually getting used to not blogging. Surprisingly I survived.

But I vowed to myself that I will return to full-time blogging once the book got published, not foreseeing that there is whole world of marketing to explore after publishing. Therefore, even after months I have been able to keep my words. I am still sorting out my accounts and wondering if I should send the book for reprint.

Meanwhile, I want to recount the overwhelming experience I have had in the whole publication process. Of the many dreams I had since high school, publishing a book was my favourite. But my first attempt at publishing a collection of short stories in 2003 failed and the disappointment grew with me for last fifteen years. I was still considering the publication of my short story book when the idea of publishing this blog came by.

I wasn’t even confident to publish PaSsu Diary because all the articles were already published online and there was nothing new I was offering, yet I wanted to try it out because I wanted to get the feel of holding a book of my own without much effort. I thought, may be it might motivate me to get my short story book published. I was only looking at it as a means to publishing my next real book, but now I feel differently. I was absolutely wrong in assuming that all the posts published on the blog would be read. No one has done that.

Suddenly, I started seeing my 2003 failure as a blessing because over the years I have learned a great deal about how to and how not to publish a book, especially how crucial it’s for your first book to be something that you won’t regret. Therefore, I have paid attention to every little detail; paper type, font, binding, cover art, cover design, dimension and even the thickness of the book. Even if the book failed in all aspects I wanted it to be a good showpiece. Seriously.

My editor Nawang Phuntsho, who helped many young people published their debut book using his crowd-publishing platform was so confident in my book, much more than myself, to vouch for 3000 copies in the first print, highest number ever attempted with any book we handled so far. He refused to change his mind about it. Now I feel he had seen the future.

On the day the book came out of the press even I became a little too over confident because the combination of Chimi R Namgyal’s cartoon, Binu Creativedonkey’s colour alteration and cover design, Che Dorji’s layout and design made the book look so grand. Inside the book, I know my editor has put in his heart-work. That’s the way I wanted my first book to look like.

The Fantastic Four

The book launch event was something I was looking forward to for the past fifteen years and I have shamelessly daydreamed many a times over the years. It’s that single event perhaps every aspiring writer hunger for, to hold their book, read to the crowd, and give their autograph. But after so many years of preparation when it was finally happening to me, I was strangely embarrassed. I was so disappointed to find myself not as happy as I should be. Perhaps I was overwhelmed to see my biggest dream come true so easily.

Book Launched by my favourite author Dr. Karma Phuntsho

The event was hosted by my friend Chimi Zom at her hotel, Dorji Elements and my team made sure that it felt like a real book launch. The setting was perfect, better than those in my daydreams. I had only one condition, that they should not make me sell my own book, which I pitifully saw happening during a few book launches I attended. I had one of my favourite authors, Dr. Karma Phuntsho grace the event. His book History of Bhutan made me look up to him as a super human.

In the confusion of everything I realised that I haven’t prepared a speech at all. I quickly thought of few things that are worthy of talking about my book, and having been a teacher all my life, spoke as if I have prepared it all night;

  1. The book is crowd-published. 16 friends invested in the publication of this book. I must admit that even after all these years I don’t have money to publish my own book, but even if I had money I would have still crowd-published the book because it also means crowd-marketing. Investors are paid back in terms of books and they help you reach your book to their network of people where we can never reach. So on the launch day, even before I sold a single book, 1500 copies are sold in principle. Thanks to Nawang for the great idea.
  2. Blog to book. It’s the first of its kind in the country and I hope this will pave way for the young bloggers to consider it as an ultimate blogging goal. But unlike mine, they could plan it well and focus on certain subjects or theme right from the beginning. 
  3. Book is always judged by its cover, therefore never take design aspects lightly. When you put your book on the shelf with other books, you should not feel sorry for your poor book. 
  4. My book is on ordinary subjects written in almost simple 'spoken’ English, that anyone can easily read and dissect, which will often make you think, “If writing such things can be published as book then even I can be a writer.” And that’s what I want people, especially young one to think, to see how possible it is to publish a book. 
Reviewing PaSsu Diary by Kezang Choden
I am proud to share that my book was received warmly by the readers across the country and I enjoyed overwhelming response from the readers on various media platforms. I only made sure that the book was available in every Dzongkhag through my network of friends- and not just lazily rely on the bookstores, while the readers did the promotion for me. I owe to so many people for letting people know and helping me reach my book to the farthest corners.

From the many reviews and comments, I knew that my book was touching young hearts so I tried to reach out to parents to buy the book for their children. I assured them that the book would tell their children so many things they longed to tell them, without having to argue with them.

The best compliments I received was from some readers who admitted that it was the first book they ever read. They shared how my short articles were so easy to read and how they kept going ‘just one more piece and I will sleep’ for the entire night. They were on page 307 by the time they realised.

And of the many pictures parents sent to me of their children adventuring with my book, the most heartwarming was of a girl who has reviewed my book as part of her English assignment, where she went on to argue with her teacher about how a teacher should be. Her language, analytical power and handwriting will grab your attention.
Review by Sonam Choden, XII, DMSS


Review by Sonam Choden XII, DMSS



At the first booktalk I gave at the Bhutan Art Gallery I had a firsthand insight into how seriously people are discussing the subjects I have written about. I am happy that the issues I discussed long time ago are back on the table with this book, therefore I am looking forward to the few booktalks I have planned to take part in.

Book Talk at Bhutan Art Gallery- by Wang




Book Launch Covered by BBS News

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Ordinary Bhutanese and Five Star Hotel Myths

I don't know if it's a normal thing to be scared of visiting five star hotels. My usual confidence fades away at the thought of walking into a high end hotel unless I am with friends. I assume many ordinary people get the same feeling even when they can actually financially afford to- at least a meal. There is a mindset that those hotels as places meant only for rich tourists.

Actually I have had the privilege of dinning in almost every big hotel in Paro and Thimphu, of course as official invitee, but all these experiences have made no difference on my mindset. When my former student Gopi, who is now the marketing and communications officer with Le Meridian Riverfront in Paro, invited my family for a dinner, I panicked.

I couldn’t tell him about my strange condition. I couldn’t tell him that the big hotels make me feel small and that the radiance of interiors dim my confidence, that the politeness of the waiters makes me nervous and that I find everything so intimidating.

I rather kept pushing it for another time, and he being a professional who is groomed at a Starwood hotel kept asking when it would be the right time for me to come. Finally after much debate with my inferiority complex I braved to reveal it to my wife and daughter, and that’s when I reduced my options to nothing. Now it was them who pushed me.

Gopi was waiting for my family of five at the gate and we were ushered in to the lobby. I was familiar with that beautiful space, because I have been here twice in the past. But Gopi was prepared to surprise us, he led us to a corner and made us choose cocktails, and mocktails for the kids. That was new to us. I never thought there would be some many different types of cocktails.


Gopi then indicated that we move to the main thing; we were invited to a meal in their Pan Asian specialty restaurant called “Bamboo Chic”. That was another corner that I didn’t have the privilege to explore during my past visits, so I was waiting to be surprised. But you could imagine how uncomfortable I was feeling and how gingerly I was moving, just to make sure that I don’t land up doing anything stupid.

Bamboo Chic was a world in itself, so much part of the hotel yet so independent in its operation. It was as if the restaurant was waiting for us for the evening, the chefs in the open kitchen welcomed us and the waiters ushered us to the table. I was melting yet acting worthy of the invitation. Fortunately, the waitress waiting on us was a friend and that made us feel so relaxed. I was dying to tell her how uncomfortable I was feeling but as the conversation began things settled gradually.

I wasn’t expecting bathub and momo on the Pan Asian menu at least, yet expecting something familiar. But why would anyone come thus far for anything usual. So the manager of the F&B helped us in choosing, and he really knew how to do it for the family; he made sure that everyone asked for different cuisines so that we could all have the most out of our visit.

In the life of mine I have never feasted on such great variety of food and for the first time I saw food as a form of art. The way each cuisine was presented made me hesitate to put my fork and destroy the beauty of it. Following the art of food, was the science of taste; my ordinary tastebuds have never been exposed to such range of sensations. I wish I could explain those feelings that were beyond my usual sweet, salty, sour and hot tastes. Every plate had a story to tell- the literature of food. Now I know why there are food bloggers!







With such heartwarming hospitality showered on my humble family I thought I owed them an honest feedback, or rather a confession. So I shamelessly told them how their big brand scared the heart out of me, how their hotel appeared so inaccessible to locals and how otherwise we so much wish to visit.
I felt so relived having gotten that of my chest but I didn’t expect my confession would go on to shatter the glass-wall I have build between my self-worth and big hotels.

The manager with so much sincerity in his voice confided to us that he and his team can claim it as their achievement if they could make their hotel popular among the local people, make it a favourite getaway place for Bhutanese families. He justified that their success with international guests was not theirs to claim, it was because of their brand and the network across the world. He was so convincing that I suddenly felt so differently about the big hotels- the myth was busted. He went on to bust more myths as he talked about affordability- explaining how any average Bhutanese could customise their menu and have a great experience with the same amount we spend at local café!

Today, I can confidently walk into any hotel and feel wanted there.


Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Sound of Slingshot

It wasn’t until I visited 2017 Haa Summer Festival that I knew there was a sound of slingshot that played a significant role. My understanding of slingshot was limited to its stone throwing function. Even the art of weaving one was new to me; I thought it was just plain leather going by the type of slingshot we used to play during our childhood.

Attending my hometown festival for the first time I was exploring the stalls for hoentay, tongba and rainbow trout delicacies, and there was no way a piece of rope woven from yak hair could draw my attention. But somehow while passing by a tent I couldn’t help notice the slingshot hanging among yak tail, bells and other yak products.
 
A typical slingshot from Haa (Of course they declared it wasn't done well)
I took it in my hands and started playing with it without a stone. It wasn’t long before a yak herder came and began naming the parts of it to me; what seemed like a piece of rope has four parts to it with names. The man told me that it wasn’t done well. There were flaws in two areas of slingshot we were looking at. I was intrigued. He was particularly not happy that the tip was made from nylon material and not yak hair. He said it wouldn’t sound good.


Sound good? What has slingshot got to do with sound? Isn’t it a weapon to propel stone across the distance? That’s the beginning of my understanding of the sound of the slingshot.

The man distanced himself from me into the open space, made a loop on one end to hold on to and sent it swinging over his head and after certain round made a sudden twist. Out of nowhere, an explosive sound was produced, completely unexpected from a piece of rope. It was physics of breaking the sound barrier.



The man did it several times, each one louder than the previous. The sound drew a lot of attention and among the people drawn by the sound were few hardcore yak herders. Looking at the reaction the man was enjoying the fellow yak herders started saying, “That’s nothing. Come on let me show you.” 
The next man to try!
 Soon, everyone rushed to take his turn. It became a battle. Each produced a different sound and it was hard to judge but nonetheless, I gave verdicts, which infuriated the battle further. Among them was an 11-year-old boy named Kinley Wangdi who pushed his grandfather into the competition, insisting that the old man was the best.
That's me failing big time and hurting my shoulder 

The old man came forth with so much pride but the sound didn’t come so well to uphold the reputation his grandson gave him. Clearly frustrated, he inspected the slingshot and declared that it was not a good one. His little supporter jumped in to inspect and much to my surprise even he declared that it wasn’t the real one. He said his grandfather could make the real ones. Everyone agreed.

The discussion then moved on to the components of a real slingshot and I was awestruck by the details of weaving a slingshot. What really made me raise my brows was when they pointed at the pattern on a section of slingshot and said that it could ward off evil forces and that the injuries from such sling would never heal. The passion with which the guys said it warranted no denying. Believe it or not, they mean it with their lives.

My curiosity and their passion for the subject matched perfectly. I was not done yet. I asked, what was the purpose of the sound they produced with the slingshot. They explained that it was the sound that could make the bravest of yak shit in their fur. When the animals go haywire the herder would make that explosive sound once and even the naughtiest bull would fall in line like a good boy. It’s like the command of a military general. 

The sound of the blank slingshot frightening the yaks can be associated directly with Pavlov’s Dog experiment on classical conditioning. Most yaks have experienced the horrific pain of getting hit by a stone shot from a slingshot, and they remember that pain and the sound together. The next time even a blank shot could achieve the same result without actually having to hurt their beloved animals.

Dasho Dzongda of Haa, Kinzang Dorji joined the passionate group and listen to their stories with utmost keenness, it was then that I proposed Dasho randomly about coming up with a competition among the yak herders to see who can produce the deadliest sound. The idea went very well with the crowd and even with Dasho. He agreed that it could be a special component of the Haa Summer Festival.
Dasho Dzongda studying the pattern of a slingshot
The men proposed that each man bring their own slingshot and that there be competition to see the best slingshot. I could hear them talking about working on their own slingshot right way. 12-year-old Kinley Wangdi was definite that none could beat his grandfather. He validated his grandfather’s worth by bringing along a beautiful piece the very next day just to show to me.
Kinley Wangdi with his Grandfather's Slingshot
I went straight to my Japanese friend Akane Matsuo and inquired about the possibility of her bringing in a sound measuring device from Japan the next time she went home. Because I realized that we couldn’t possibly trust human ear to pass judgment on that sort of sound. She Googled it right away and agreed to bring one. After all, it was in her best interest to do any little thing for her second home- Haa. It was her project in RSPN to develop community-based sustainable tourism in Haa, and the slingshot that sparked all the interest was actually hung in her team’s stall that fateful day.

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